Are you thinking about betting the second at Belmont today? If so, you have the choice of win, place, show, exacta, quinella, trifecta, superfecta, pick-3, pick-4, AND a double. That’s 10 separate pools into which you can spread your money. If that isn’t enough, you can get into the pick-5 in race 1, the pick-6 in race 5 or perhaps the coolest bet in racing, the Grand Slam in race 6. I guess the theory is that all those choices cover every type of bettor who might show up, and for large tracks with large handles it may work, but at smaller tracks it’s a bad idea all the way around.
And remember. Most people don’t have a computer program identifying pool inefficiencies. The vast majority of the race day crowd relies on habit or experience to get into a pool.
When Arapahoe Park reopened in 1992 after an eight year hiatus they made a great decision when they decided to drop the quinella and instead offer a $1 exacta box. Same two dollar bet and a collection as long as your horses finished first and second in either order, and it accomplished something important. It made the exacta pool larger than it would have been otherwise, and at smaller tracks pool size is critical. At that time dog racing in Colorado was king, and the king of dog racing bets was the quinella. People were literally flummoxed by the absence of the quinella, complaining to the point where Arapahoe was forced to eventually bring it back. It’s been downhill from there.
As someone once said, you can’t save people from themselves.
Even if you couldn’t make a $1 exacta bet, quinellas shouldn’t be offered. How many times have you seen the longer shot win the race and have the quinella pay $20 and the exacta $60? The point is that when the longer shot wins, you want a premium for your combination bet. With a single first/second pool, you have a much better chance at getting a fair pay. Plus you don’t have to go through the mind numbing exercise of checking the payoffs in two pools to figure out where the inefficiencies are (assuming you don’t have some software doing that for you). The last point is that at the smaller tracks, too much of the action happens in the last five minutes and the pools can be highly volatile as bettors search for the overlays. At least if there is only one pool there is a chance the pool might stabilize a little sooner and you’ll come closer to getting the payoff you expected when you bet.
Frankly, the quinella should go the way of the horse and buggy. Tracks should weather the storm and eventually people will forget the quinella.
The next bet they should get rid of is the show bet. The show bet caters to two segments of the betting public: people who go to the track with $20 and want to come home with $20 and the big dollar bettors who are happy to take 5% on their money. It’s a 19th century bet, which makes little sense considering we are well into the 21st century. You want to make the stingy bettors happy? Have a win pool and a combined place/show pool like you see in venues outside the United States. Again, at the smaller tracks, this can only help stabilize pools.
Other bets can be offered based on track handle. Saratoga, Belmont, and Santa Anita can pretty much offer as many bets as they please, even though they still dilute pools unnecessarily. Still, remember that most of the super-exotic pools are dominated by the rebate sharks, and most of the betting public is simply donating to their cause. I would argue all day long that one gigantic exacta pool benefits big and small bettor alike.
The larger tracks have a built in dilemma when it comes to which bettor to cater to. The small player has a much better chance at hitting the easier combinations – doubles, exactas, maybe even trifectas. But as you get to the more exotic bets such as the superfecta or picks-4,5,6, small bettors are most often just donating money to the pool. For every “small guy hits pick-6 with $32 ticket” story, there are a hundred where some whale investing $15,000 hits it. There are 5,040 combinations in a 10-horse race superfecta. Even if half of them are improbable, who has the bankroll to cover 2,520 combinations, even at 10 cents a ticket? This problem is exacerbated at the small tracks.
At Arapahoe Park yesterday, the total handle was around $68,000 for 11 races. That’s not $68,000 a race. That’s $68,000 total. The superfecta in race 11 paid $627.60 for a 7-3-ALL-ALL ticket of which there was exactly one $2 (or two $1) ticket holder. Arapahoe doesn’t have 10 cent superfectas because, as they discovered, the total pool would be about $200. This also means if you had the 7-3-5-ALL or the 7-3-5-4 you would have collected…that’s right, $627.60. How much money should you put into a pool where you will collect $627.60 if you snag the whole thing? Arapahoe offers superfectas because everybody else does, but frankly they would have been better off just building the trifecta or exacta pools.
I know this is unkind, but I have pretty much never run into an ardent racegoer who doesn’t complain that management may understand the actual operation of a track, but precious few actually understand the pari-mutuel aspect. The standard answer to any question is, because that is what the fans/owners/trainers ask for. They are helpless against the onslaught of those who demand 10 betting pools a race.
Offering a ridiculous number of pools is not in the interest of the average bettor. The only time they prosper is when the favorites come in. Otherwise most bettors are just feeding the anti-Robin Hoods – stealing from the poor to give to the rich.
Ray Paulick quoted Charles Cella, Oaklawn Park track owner in 1988 opining that exotic wagering was the worst thing in the world. That’s a silly opinion, but the larger point is well taken. Too many bets pull money away from the pools where the average bettor may have success. I’d challenge the larger tracks to undertake an experiment. Take a Wednesday and have win and place/show betting, exactas, and trifectas on every race, three pick-3’s, one pick-4, two daily doubles, two superfectas and a pick-6.
Check out this great blog on exotic betting by Ray Paulick